The Common Good

Culture Watch

Mary J. Blige, My Guardian Angel

In her book “The Funny Thing Is …,” Ellen DeGeneres describes being invited to God’s house for wine and cheese. When the Almighty walks into the room, Degeneres describes God this way:

“I would say she was about 47, 48 years old, a beautiful, beautiful black woman. And we just immediately hugged.”

When I think about the guardian angels who I’ve been told surround me like spiritual body guards, I picture the Angel In Charge as looking and sounding a lot like the Grammy-winning singer Mary J. Blige.

How appropriate, then, that Blige portrays a character in the upcoming holiday film, Black Nativity, (based in part on the Langston Hughes play) who appears to be an angelic being with a huge platinum-blonde Afro, dressed head-to-toe in silver-colored leather.

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'Jerusalem,' a Tribute to the Holy City, Comes to the Giant Screen

It may be as close as a person can get to praying at the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, the Al-Aqsa Mosque and the Western Wall, without actually going there.

The newly released movie “Jerusalem,” filmed in 2D and 3D and playing on IMAX and other giant-screen theaters across the U.S. and the world, gives viewers grand, hallmark panoramas, at once awe-inspiring and intimate.

For years filmmakers had sought the rights to capture the city from the air, but never before had permission been granted, in part because the holy city is a no-fly zone.

Still, before filming began in 2010, producer Taran Davies came up with an extensive wish list of all the sites and rituals he wanted in the film, and presented it to advisers familiar with the spectrum of religious and secular officials who would have to approve.

“They all laughed and said forget about it,” Davies said. “They said, ‘It’s impossible and you’re not going to get half of what you’re looking for.’”

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Can God Take a Tweet? 'The Twible' Delivers Holy Writ with Twitter Wit

Nearly every home has at least one Bible, although few read it.

But 16 percent of Americans log on to Twitter every day. And that’s where author Jana Riess takes the word of God. A popular Mormon blogger at Religion News Service and author of “Flunking Sainthood,” Riess spent four years tweeting every book of the Old and New Testaments with pith and wit.

Now, the complete collection — each chapter condensed to 140 characters — is on sale as “The Twible,” (rhymes with Bible)  with added cartoons and zippy summaries for each biblical book.

Her tweets mix theology with pop-culture inside jokes on sources as varied as ”Pride and Prejudice,” “The Lord of the Rings,” and digital acronyms such as LYAS (love you as a sister). To save on precious character count, God is simply “G.”

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It's Started: The Christmas Onslaught

It's started.

I was following the Twitter feed for the conversation between Nadia Bolz-Weber and Amy Butler at Calvary Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. (#nadiaandamy) about the present realities and possible futures of Christianity in the United States, and it happened. I was happily dividing my cognitive attentions between Twitter and the television when it happened.

There was a Christmas ad.

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Rapper Shad Wrestles with Humanity and Humility

There is no mistaking it: Shad Kabango's music is authentic and tenacious. With incredible humility, he speaks from his heart, with no fear of calling out the inconsistencies he sees in the world.

In the recent release of his 4th studio album, Flying Colours, the critically acclaimed Canadian emcee, better known as simply "Shad," hopes his music speaks for itself.

"It’s not easy to summarize or convey, I don’t think," Shad said of the theme of the album, in a recent interview with Sojourners. "Some sort of … feeling of hope, I guess, but hope within the complexity of real life and the challenges of real life."

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An Edgy Pastor Whose Edginess Isn’t Just Shtick

PASADENA, Calif. — The first thing most people mention when they talk about Rev. Nadia Bolz-Weber is her tattoos. She has many — most of them religious in nature, including a large icon of Mary Magdalene covering her right forearm.

Then they talk about how tall she is (6 foot 1), that she looks more like the lead singer of an all-girl punk rock band than a pastor and that she (unapologetically) swears a lot — even from the pulpit while preaching.

All of the above is true and part of what makes Bolz-Weber unique among high-profile pastors and so-called “Christian authors.” (I hate that term. The word “Christian” is best used as a noun, not an adjective.)

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Mandy Patinkin, 'The Princess Bride,' and Justice, Revenge, and Jewish Spirituality

If you were on Facebook or Twitter last week, you probably saw the CBS interview with Mandy Patinkin. He’s probably best known for this line from the classic movie The Princess Bride:

“Hello. My name is Inigo Montoya. You killed my father. Prepare to die.”

The Princess Bride was released when I was 16. My friends and I would throw that line back and forth whenever we competed against one another. Monopoly. Basketball. Chess. Nintendo. Rock, paper, scissors. It didn’t matter. Like anyone with a pulse during the late 1980s, we repeated that phrase endlessly. It was our favorite line in the movie.

That and “Mawwiage …”

But that’s not Mandy’s favorite line.

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'Church Rescue' Propels Unlikely Reality TV Stars: Church Consultants

They’ve rescued bars and restaurants and shabby houses, but this month reality television stars are set to rescue something new.

Church Rescue will debut Monday on the National Geographic Channel, featuring the most unlikely of reality TV stars: church consultants.

The series will feature three “Church Hoppers”: the Rev. Kevin “Rev Kev” Annas, a business analyst; the Rev. Anthony “Gladamere” Lockhart, a marketing specialist; and the Rev. Jerry “Doc” Bentley, a spiritual counselor.

“The Church Hoppers exist to build balance in church through systems, business, and marketing,” said Lockhart, who like his fellow rescuers comes out of the Southern Baptist Convention.

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Rob Bell, Oprah Winfrey, and Christianity’s Identity Crisis

Christianity is facing an identity crisis that boils down to one question: Who is God? It’s the question that Rob Bell tackled in his latest book What We Talk About When We Talk About God and it’s the question Rob and Oprah Winfrey discussed this week on Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday ... From nearly the beginning of religion, the human experience of the sacred has been marked by ambivalence. The gods were fickle and you never knew where you stood with them. They were loving and wrathful, forgiving and judgmental.

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ICYMI: Brooklyn-Based Lucius' Vintage Pop Tunes Are A Must Listen

It seems rare these days to find an album where each song is valuable both individually and as part of the collective whole that makes up the record. Musicians are always telling us that they “don’t want to make just a few good singles with filler,” but few are able to fulfill those lofty intentions. Wilco did it on Yankee Hotel Foxtrot, where the songs were different from themselves and anything Wilco had ever done in the past, and Animal Collective did it more recently on the 2009 album Merriweather Post Pavilion with the opposite approach: each song was unified by a cohesive and consistent sonic palette. Many point to Fleetwood Mac’s 11th studio album Rumours as another example, and there are surely others depending on one’s musical tastes.

But I think a newer, much lesser known group has entered that conversation, and they’ve done it on their first studio release, nonetheless. Brooklyn-based Lucius have managed to craft an album with diverse songs, catchy hooks, and really powerful vocals and harmonies stick in your head for days. There isn’t a song on their debut, Wildewoman, I want to skip through. Bob Boilen of NPR’s ‘All Songs Considered’ perhaps says it best when describing their EP: “If it were possible to wear out a digital file, then my copy of Lucius' self-titled 2012 EP would now be scattered digital bits.”

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